Harvick Dazzles at Darlington, Breaks Season Streak of Different NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Winners
DARLINGTON, S.C. - Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick became the first repeat winner of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) by crossing the Darlington Speedway finish line 0.558 of a second ahead of Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Harvick locked down his first NSCS victory on the track Too Tough to Tame by wheeling his No. 4 ride past Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 machine on the high line in the frontstretch as the cars approached the white flag during a second green-white-checkered flag finish
The No. 4 remained stout and sailed away through the closing circuit to give Harvick his 25th series victory in the longest race in the storied venue's 65-year series history that went seven more laps than scheduled at 374.
The inaugural Kentucky Speedway NASCAR Nationwide Series race winner, Harvick, started from the pole position and flexed his No. 4 car's muscle throughout the race by leading a race-best seven times for a race-best 237 laps, but had to survive a restart with 10 laps remaining in addition to the green-white-checkered flag finish attempts.
"It was just one of those deals where the strategy was going to be hard to overcome with the track position without those green-white-checkers there at the end.
"The cautions all lined out and our Budweiser car was unbelievable all night. We were able to hang on there at the end. I knew I had that high line I hadn't showed it to them all night on the restarts. I wanted to save it until the very end. I kind of learned that last night in the Nationwide race.
"It (the high line) was a good tool in your tool bag to have there at the end," Harvick said after he tallied his second top-five and third top-10 finish of the season that marked his second top-10 finish in his past three series starts.
Earnhardt Jr., who led the field to the green flag for the second green-white-checkered flag finish after Crew Chief Steve Letarte made a high-risk, high-reward call to place only two new tires on the No. 88 on the final Lap 366 pit stop, reluctantly surrendered his position the No. 4 in closing moments. He registered his NSCS-best finish on the Track Too Tough to Tame while delivering his fifth top-five finish of the season along with his second top-five finish in his past three starts.
"We just didn't have enough tires, you know? (Kevin) Harvick had the best car and the best tires at the end. It was real hard to hold him off. I should have probably ran the top down there in (Turns) 3 and 4 and made him go around the bottom, but I think he was going to get us anyway. We were going to try.
"A great run, good job by my team, this isn’t one of my best tracks so my team gave me a great car. I’ve got to give them a lot of credit," Earnhardt Jr., said.
Jimmie Johnson grabbed third, last year's Darlington race victor Matt Kenseth claimed fourth and Greg Biffle completed the race top five.
Harvick held a comfortable lead with 10 laps remaining when Joey Logano's No. 22 Team Penske car leaked fluids on the track. Johnson and Earnhardt Jr., came to the pits to take two tires and returned to the track in the respective first and second spots on the grid. Harvick's team put four tires on the No. 4 and emerged from pit road in fifth place.
Earnhardt Jr., and his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports car were in position to deliver his second victory of the season when he passed Johnson for the lead on Lap 368, but Denny Hamlin's No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing car connected with the wall and initiated the 10th caution period that led to the first green-white-checkered attempt.
The No. 88 was in the lead off the restart when Clint Bowyer's No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing car hit Kurt Busch's No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing car which spun and set up the second green-white-checkered attempt.
The series will take a rare week off to celebrate the Easter holiday before returning to action at Richmond International Raceway April 26 at 7:15 p.m.
Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon, who placed seventh in the Darlington scrape and notched his sixth top-10 finish of the season, will enter the Richmond race holding a one-point championship lead on Matt Kenseth, who crossed the Darlington line fourth to earn his second top-five finish of the season, second top-five finish in his past four starts and his fourth straight top-10 finish of the season.
The series returns to our speedway June 28 for the fourth Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts. Single-race tickets, weekend ticket packages, weekend camping and infield Kroger Fan Zone passes can be purchased through the respective pages of this website, by calling (859) 578-2300 or by visiting our ticket office at 1 Speedway Drive in Sparta, Ky., just off Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 N.
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